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PHT remembers video games: EA Sports’ NHL ’98 and its unmatched intro video

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Every Tuesday, PHT will remember a hockey video game (or games). Since we don’t have every console or cartridge, some posts will be recollections, not reviews. This week, we look at NHL ’98, one of the most interesting entries in EA Sports’ series.

NHL ’98 won’t dominate “best sports games ever” tournaments like early entries in the series. NHL ’98 doesn’t corner the market on hockey video game nostalgia. It’s a bit niche for widespread warm-and-fuzzies.

Even so, NHL ’98 stands as one of the most noteworthy entries in the series. And it’s certainly one of the quirkiest.

(Note: this post discusses the Playstation version of NHL ’98. The entry is also noteworthy for being the last released on Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis.)

EA finally found its Playstation-era footing with NHL ’98

Asking a video game company to pump out an annual sports title is already asking a lot. Asking them to make a jump from console generations borders on audacious, especially around this time, when developers were still trying to figure out the whole “polygon” thing.

The NHL series’ stumbles backed up that notion. Most dramatically, EA Sports decided not to release NHL ’96 on Playstation for quality reasons. (See page 16 of this PDF of GamePro magazine. Heh.)

The company managed to pump out NHL ’97 for Sony’s world-beating console. Not only did the game capitalize on the Panthers’ stunning run, but they even incorporated John Vanbiesbrouck’s mask design into the disc art:

NHL '98 big step up from 97 except for disc art
Still pretty rad. Via EA Sports/Moby Games

Unfortunately, playing NHL ’97 was only slightly more enjoyable than taking refuge from a barrage of plastic rats. OK, that’s unfair, but critics backed up my teenage memories of being a little disappointed.

(That said, I’m bummed that a cursory video search didn’t turn up any of John Davidson’s pre-game analysis videos. Those were mind-blowing in 1996/97, let me tell you.)

Really, it wasn’t until NHL ’98 that EA Sports really got things right on the PS1. Not only was it well-received at the time, but Gamespot’s Brian Ekberg thought enough of the title to revisit it in 2005. That isn’t a small feat considering the churn of yearly sports releases (especially back when you might *gasp* see more than one major title per sport).

Quirks that made it memorable

As much as fun gameplay made NHL ’98 sing, the game really took advantage of CD technology to up the presentation.

(Some of the menu music will still trickle into my head.)

The biggest impression comes from the rocking and deeply silly intro video. Do yourself a favor and watch that embedded clip above this post’s headline.

To my delight, Game Informer’s Matthew Kato looked back at that ridiculous(ly great) intro in a 2018 article, catching up with composer Jeff van Dyck. Van Dyck provided a fun peek behind the curtain on making that video and the game’s music in general.

“[Producer Ken Sayler] said something like, ‘There should be a voice in here, an announcer, saying some stuff. Can you write some stuff?” Van Dyck said of composing music for the intro. “And I said, ‘I’m not really sure what he should say,’ and basically [Sayler] just rattled off what you hear in that intro. It was very flippant, the way he issued it. I think he was expecting me to re-write it, but at the time I just went, ‘Well, it sounds good enough to me.'”

And that’s how we got gems like “Are you afraid of the masked man?” in NHL ’98.

It’s all silly, yet the footage is remarkable enough that it just works. Even the font is pretty funny.

NHL ’98 featured avid gamer Marc Crawford

While Van Dyck went on to other EA projects, the NHL series and other sports games leaned on licensed tracks, making his compositions fairly unique for the series.

Also unusual: getting an active head coach involved in development. As you can see from issue 102 of GamePro (page 90), Marc Crawford consulted for the game. The article also describes Crawford as an “avid gamer,” which is just priceless. Seeing Peter Forsberg as a game’s cover star was a rare treat, too.

While the SNES and Genesis versions of NHL ’98 represented the end of the 16-bit era for the EA hockey games, the PS1 version might be considered an evolutionary leap. It wasn’t the first 3D-ish or PS1 game (again, that goes to NHL ’97), but it took the series a long way.

It even took the NHL games to places they’d never go again.

PHT remembers other hockey video games:

  • NHL Championship 2000, Fox’s rare foray into hockey video games, starring Mike Modano.
  • NHL Slapshot, a Wii video game with a small plastic hockey stick peripheral that even Wayne Gretzky found delightful.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bettman on status of ’19-20 NHL season: ‘We’re viewing all of our options’

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman appeared on Lunch Talk Live with Mike Tirico Tuesday afternoon to discuss the status of the 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think right now there’s too much uncertainty,” Bettman said when asked if the weekend call featuring major sports commissioners with President Trump changed a potential target date if things improved. “Hopefully we’ll all know more by the end of April.

“From an NHL standpoint, we’re viewing all of our options. We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light — and the green light may not be crystal clear because there may still be some places in the [U.S. and Canada] where we can’t play and others places where you can. We’re looking at all options. Nothing’s been ruled in, nothing’s been ruled out. And it’s largely going to be determined what we do by how much time there is because we have next season to focus on as well.”

There’s been recent reports that the NHL has been exploring the idea of holding games at neutral sites, but that’s all part of the planning process at the moment, according to Bettman.

“Our clubs, if nothing, are extraordinarily competitive, and whatever we do has to be fair, which is why there’s been some public speculation in the media about neutral site game in remote parts of the country,” he said. “That’s just part of considering all the potential options, depending on how we find the circumstances. But when you talk about fairness, we also have issues about if we get to play a playoffs, who gets in if we can’t complete the regular season. We had seven teams on the bubble and all they think they would have had a chance. We have to deal with the lottery and order of selection in the draft.

“The best thing, and the easiest thing, would be if at some point we could complete the regular season and then go into the playoffs as we normally do. We understand that that may not be possible and that’s why we’re considering every conceivable alternative to deal with whatever the eventuality is. Again, it doesn’t even pay to speculate because nobody in any of the sports knows enough now to make those profound decisions.”

You can catch the full interview with Bettman in the video above.

Here’s the Lunch Talk Live schedule for the rest of this week:

Wednesday 4/8
12:15 p.m. ET – Al Michaels and Doc Emrick
12:30 – PGA Golfer Justin Thomas
12:50 – Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett

Thursday 4/9
12:50 p.m. ET – Keith Jones and Eddie Olczyk

Friday 4/10
12:15 p.m. ET – Michele Tafoya
12:40 – Dan Hicks and Paul Azinger
12:50 – Robbie Mustoe and Robbie Earle

Follow the show on Twitter at: @LunchTalkNBCSN

Lunch Talk Live will air weekdays at noon ET on NBCSN and stream on NBCSports.com here and the NBC Sports app. Select content and interviews will additionally be hosted on NBC Sports’ YouTube channel and social media platforms.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Wash your hands while an NHL announcer does play-by-play

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One of the biggest reminders that we’ve all heard in the last month in regards to eliminating germs has been to wash your hands. Popular options include singing “Happy Birthday” or picking out a verse from your favorite song.

Singing “Happy Birthday” can get old, of course, especially if you’re scrubbing your paws several times a day during this COVID-19 pandemic. While doing just that a few weeks back Matt Sammon, a veteran broadcaster who was the Director of Broadcasting for the Lightning from 2008-2019, had an idea pop into his head. Wanting to come up with a unique way to ensure you’re washing your hands the appropriate amount of time (20 seconds!), he had the idea to use sports play-by-play announcers.

That is when “Clean Home Team” was born.

Sammon reached out to the Lightning and recruited the team’s radio voice, Dave Mishkin, to record the first clip (listen here). He then used that “pilot” to pitch the idea to the other 30 NHL teams to try and get their announcers on board.

[MORE: How Bauer is making medical shields to battle coronavirus]

Currently, six other NHL broadcasters have contributed since Mishkin: Matt Loughlin (New Jersey, clip), Steve Carroll and Dan Wood (Anaheim, clip), Derek Wills (Calgary, clip), Brendan Batchelor (Vancouver, clip), and Joe Beninati (Washington, clip). A French version from Senators radio play-by-play announcer Nicolas St. Pierre will be available soon.

“The different voices, the different way that people are approaching this, it’s pretty fun to listen to them all as I’m putting them together,” Sammon told NBC Sports this week.

The clips are all market specific when it comes to the sound effects, so you’ll hear the proper goal horns for each team in the background.

Sammon said he’s reached out to every NHL team to get one broadcaster involved and is hoping to include announcers from other sports as well. Fans can also submit their suggestions, whether it be someone from a minor league, amateur, or high school team.

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT Morning Skate: If NHL returns, could games take place in … North Dakota?

NHL 2019-20 North Dakota
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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Elliotte Friedman details North Dakota as a possible host city in potential season resumption scenarios. Friedman notes that Ralph Engelstad Arena might work, in part because of the state’s low population density. The NHL should consider Engelstad’s controversies if they go probe deeper on a North Dakota plan, though. (Sportsnet)

• Bruce Garrioch expands on some of the issues the NHL and NHLPA are facing, stemming in part from Gary Bettman’s weekly conference call with the Board of Governors. Garrioch provides some interesting details about how players might try to limit the damage from big escrow challenges, and other issues that need to be cleared up. (Ottawa Sun)

• In the latest edition of his The Color of Hockey feature, William Douglas explores how Hockey Is For Everyone programs are helping rinks and schools adjust to the coronavirus pandemic. (NHL.com)

• Travis Yost analyzes the continued decline of “workhorse” goalies in the NHL. Yost shares some fascinating stats, including that Connor Hellebuyck and Carey Price are the only goalies to start 75 percent (or more) of their teams’ games in 2019-20. Could these trends eventually push No. 1 goalie salaries down, and backups’ cap hits up? Certainly plausible, and possibly more sensible than putting all your eggs in one goalie-shaped basket. (TSN)

• Sabres coach Ralph Krueger believes that Rasmus Dahlin‘s defensive game keeps going “up a notch.” Frankly, I’d argue that Dahlin’s ice time needs to go up multiple notches. After averaging 21:09 TOI per game as a rookie, Dahlin’s down by almost two minutes this season (19:18). While that climbed a bit toward the end of 2019-20, it’s baffling that Krueger hesitates to send Dahlin out on the ice at least as much as Dahlin was out there in 2018-19. Maybe such rave reviews will translate to more reps in year three? (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• You might say that I accused Krueger of under-coaching in the tidbit above. Barry Trotz, meanwhile, wonders if he over-coached his Islanders at times this season. (Newsday)

• John Barr compares 2019-20 attendance numbers to what we saw in previous seasons. Plenty of interesting graphs and charts to chew on if you’re interested in sellouts and other figures. (NHL to Seattle)

Connor McDavid and Gary Roberts teamed up for a video series to try to help kids find creative ways to stay fit indoors. Good stuff from ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. (ESPN)

• Ranking the Nashville Predators’ jersey designs, from worst to best. Yes, mustard ranked low on the list. (Hockey By Design)

• Binging TV shows during the pause? Milan Lucic will provide staunch competition. He consumed Game of Thrones in just 19 days. That’s 73 episodes, and that wasn’t a 22-minute sitcom … although the travel logic of the latter episodes might’ve deserved a laugh track. (TSN)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: The most impressive single season stats

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In this week’s edition of the NHL Power Rankings we take a look back at some of the impressive single season statistics in league history.

From 50 goals in 50 games, to an unbelievable Mario Lemieux performance, to some statistical oddities featuring some of the game’s all-time greats. We limited it to one entry per player and separated them into three tiers: The truly great all-time performances, performances that stood out within the context of their era, and then finally some random fun ones at the end.

Which performances made the cut this week?

To the rankings!

All-time great individual performances

1. Bobby Orr’s 139 points. Before Orr came along defensemen were simply not a major part of the offensive scene in the NHL. At least not as it related to appearing on the score sheet. Orr completely changed that, as well the perception of what a defenseman could be and the role they could play. He was the first defenseman to ever top the 100-point mark and lead the league in scoring when he finished with 120 points during the 1969-70 season. His performance the next season was even better when he hit the 139-point mark, a number that will probably never be reached by another defender. During Orr’s peak in Boston the only player in the NHL that could compare to him offensively was his teammate, Phil Esposito.

2. Mario Lemieux’s 160 points in 60 games. The 1992-93 season is the single most dominant season of Lemieux’s career, even if the final stat line does not show the most goals or points. First, that per-game average would have projected out to be 218 points over 82 games, a number that would have been an NHL record. It also came during a season in which he overcame Hodgkins disease and returned to the ice in Philadelphia on the day of his final  radiation treatment. He received a standing ovation from the Flyers crowd when he took the ice. Later that season he received another standing ovation from another notoriously brutal crowd when he scored five goals in Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers. Imagine how dominant you have to be to get standing ovations as a visiting player in Philadelphia and New York. In the same season.

When he returned to the lineup on March 2 following his treatment, he trailed Pat Lafontaine by 12 points in the NHL scoring race. He ended up winning the scoring race by 12 points. That was a 24-point swing in a little more than a month.

3. Wayne Gretzky’s 92 goals. Gretzky could have several entries on a list like this, but we will stick with his 1981-82 season where he scored an NHL record 92 goals, including 50 in his first 39 games. That is the fastest any player has ever reached the 50 goal mark. Entering Game 38 of that season he was sitting on 41 goals before scoring four goals to give him 45 on the season. In his very next game he scored five goals to hit the 50-mark.

4. Maurice Richard’s 50 goals in 50 games. Richard became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a single season when he accomplished the feat during the 1944-45 season, scoring his 50th goal in the 50th (and final) game of the season. Before this no player in NHL history had ever scored more than 44 goals in a season (Joe Malone score 44 in 20 games during the 1917-18 season), while the 40-goal mark had been topped just four times.

5. Tony Esposito’s 15 shutouts. The 15-shutout mark has been reached five times in NHL history. The first instances all came between the 1925 and 1929 seasons when the NHL was still in its infancy and goals were rare. The other came during the 1969-70 season when Esposito reached the mark as a rookie. He did it in only 63 games and won the NHL’s rookie of the year award, the Vezina Trophy, and was second in Hart Trophy voting.

6. Teemu Selanne’s 76 rookie goals. This is a record that still stands and it is difficult to imagine it falling anytime soon. Selanne burst onto the scene with the Jets during the 1992-93 season and finished tied with Alexander Mogilny for the goal-scoring crown by filling the back of the net 76 times. When he broke Mike Bossy’s rookie record he delivered one of the greatest celebrations of all time.

7. Dominik Hasek’s 13 shutouts. Arguably the single most dominant goalie in NHL history. Hasek’s run between 1993 and 1999 was a clinic in goaltending excellence. You knew every year he was going to lead the league in pretty much every goaltending category and take home the Vezina Trophy. The one number that stands out from that run was his 13 shutouts during the 1997-98 season. It is one of just three seasons in NHL history after 1930 where a goalie recorded more than 12 shutouts in a season — Esposito’s aforementioned 15 shutouts, and Harry Lumsley with 13 during the 1954-55 season.

Unheard of for the era performances

8. Alex Ovechkin‘s 65 goals. The best goal-scoring of all time was at his best during the 2007-08 season when he scored 65 goals. It is not the most impressive single goal scoring season in NHL history, but when the era and goal-scoring climate at the time is taken into account is incredible. Only two other players in the league scored more than 47 goals that season, and the league was entering a stretch where Ovechkin was the only player capable of hitting the 50-goal mark.

9. Nikita Kucherov‘s 128 points. It had been 25 years since a player reached a point total like this. Between the 2012 and 2018 seasons the 100-point scorer had become nearly extinct in the NHL with only a few exceptions. The idea of someone scoring 128 points in 2019 just seemed unheard of.

10. Mike Green‘s 31 goals. Again, not the highest total ever for a defenseman, but Green’s 31 goals came during an incredibly low-scoring era in the history of the league, and he hit that mark in only 68 games! That is a 38-goal pace over 82 games.

11. Joe Thornton‘s 96 assists. Thornton is one of just five players in NHL history to record at least two different 90-assist seasons. His best performance came during the 2005-06 season (the year he was traded from Boston to San Jose) when he finished with 96 assists on his way to winning the MVP.  That total is 16th highest in NHL history. But again, the era matters. Of the top-20 assist seasons ever, 19 of them took place in the decade between 1982 and 1992 when scoring was at an all-time high. Thornton’s came 15 years after that.

Random oddities

12. Gordie Howe scores 15 goals at age 51. I just find this insane. There are only a small handful of players in the history of the league that have ever played a game over the age of 40, and the ones that do are generally not very production. Howe played a full season at the age of 51 and still scored 15 goals while doing so

13. Martin Brodeur appears in 78 games at age 34. The easiest job in the NHL throughout the late 1990s and 2000s was backup goalie for the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur was a workhorse that was going to play as many games as humanly possible, regularly appeared in more than 74 games. He hit his peak during the 2006-07 season he appeared in 78 games, as a goalie, at the age of 34.

14. Dave Schultz’s 479 penalty minutes. A record that will probably stand forever. The Broad Street Bullies were a, let’s call them, unique team.

15. Jimmy Carson and Bob Kudelski play 86 games. In the early 1990s the NHL briefly expanded its schedule to 84 games to allow teams to play a couple of neutral site games each year to help gauge interest in future expansion. Because of in-season trades Carson and Kudelski both ended up setting new single season records for games played in a season by each appearing in 86 games.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.